Monday, May 28, 2018

The first annual St. Helena/Community Board #9 Plant-Based Health Fair

This weekend (Saturday May 26th, to be precise) was the First Annual St. Helena/Community Board #9 Plant-Based Health Fair.


We had a wonderful group of vendors, including:
  • Jeanne Schumacher, team lead of Plant-Based Westchester, and part of PlantPure Communities
  • Miguel, of Miguel's Flowershop on 1878 Cross-Bronx Expressway, off White Plains Road, with a huge selection of plants, all organized around the theme ofhow plants help clean up the indoor air.
  • Montefiore was there with Information about the Cardiac Wellness Program and other great information on Plant-Based Living, to remind us that heart-disease, like many other chronic illnesses, is reversible with a plant-based lifestyle.
  • The police was there to recruit for their upcoming exams, and one of the officers was very interested in plant-based living.
  • Bronx Community Health Network (BCHN) was there, with more good nutritional information
  • Dhokela Yzeiraj was there with information about Ayurvedic nutrition and medicine.
  • Lilian Quartuccia, Homeopathist was there with great information about homeopathy.
  • Taqueria Tlaxcalli, provided some plant-based food, an absolutely brilliant black-bean salad, very delicate, with just a bit of Mexican flair in the form of Jalapeno peppers.
  • Neerob Restaurant was there with a brilliant dish of basmati rice, with a lentil-based sauce, and a mixed-vegetable sauce with cauliflower and water squash.

Program - Speakers 

With a brief introduction from the organizers, Father David Powers, the pastor of St. Helena's parish, Anthony Tramantano, consultant for GoodNNatural, the Bronx' first and only health food store, and myself, speaking for PlantBased DaBronx, and the T. Colin Campbell Center for Nutrition Studies, our program of speakers took off, and the program ran through 4:15 PM.

  1. Jeanne Schumacher was the first presenter, and her background as a chemistry teacher showed in her presentation, which was an excellent introduction to all the practical aspects of adopting a plant-based lifestyle.
  2. We had a brief station-break for an address by Alessandra Biaggi who is running for State Senate for district 34, (Mount Vernon, Pelham, and parts of the Bronx) - with an agenda that includes a focus on education, women's rights, affordable housing, gun control, the economy, with a healthy focus on sustainability, but she also informed us on the new NY Universal Healthcare Bill, which she supports and which passed in the Assembly last year and still needs to pass the Senate.
  3. Rogier F. van Vlissingen (that's me) gave a presentation on the basic nutritional framework of the plant-based lifestyle with materials from the T. Colin Campbell Center for Nutrition Studies at Cornell. He took a certificate course there. This course teaches the materials of the book professor T. Colin Campbell wrote with his physician son, Thomas Campbell, to popularize the findings of his academic work, The China Study, which remains the largest ever study of nutrition and health.
    In his presentation he mentioned the example of Jesse Caballero, who is the wife of the owner of Taqueria Tlaxcalli on Starling Avenue. Jesse made an amazing turn-around with the plant-based diet after a serious illness, and in four months she lost 55 lbs.
  4. Dr. Sharon Wasserstrom, FACLM was the next speaker, she is the first plant-based physician in the Bronx, certified by the American College of Lifestyle Physicians. Her office is in our district, at the Montefiore clinic on 2300 Westchester Avenue. She spoke about some of her own clinical experience, and the amazing results, including how the results immediately show how fast.
  5. Rogier spoke briefly on the future of healthcare, in which 70% of the focus is going to be on diet and lifestyle in general based on the new plant-based nutrition. The plant-based revolution will also clearly put the patient in charge, and that in and of itself will bring new relevance to many different healing modalities, including the ones represented at the fair today, naturopathy, homeopathy, Ayurveda, and Chinese Medicine.
  6. Anthony Tramantano and Stuart Vander spoke about GoodNNatural, which is a Bronx-based healthfood store on 2173 White Plains Road, close to East Tremont Avenue. GoodNNatural stocks a lot of great products that are helpful for a plant-based lifestyle, including the full complement of Bob's Red Mill, and Soups by Dr. McDougall, and many others.
  7. Dhokela gave us an impassioned speech about Ayurvedic nutrition, and how the whole Ayurvedic framework helps you be more aware of your body's responses to food, and the connection with the energy body. Originally Ayurveda is not a plant-based tradition, but still it can provide useful guidance for plant-based living if you tweak it appropriately, it certainly provides a way to become friends with yourself in your lifestyle choices.
  8. Lillian Quartuccia provided a great introduction to Homeopathy, which is an often overlooked healing modality that was developed by the German physician Samuel Hahnemann in the 18th century. Homeopathic remedies have the great benefit of producing NO side effects. The one product many of us know, even if we don't know much about homeopathy is Oscillococcinum, which is a widely available flu remedy.
  9. Carina Lopez, ND provided a lively introduction to herbs with a special focus on Chinese Medicine, which is yet another healing modality that can be helpful to many. While the approach is different, all three, homeopathy, Ayurveda, and Chinese medicine, are in essence varieties of energy medicine, which in general is undoubtedly becoming more and more important.
  10. The final speaker was Ronda Lamb for the Parkchester CSA, which is a program to distribute organic vegetables at St. Paul's. You can buy a share in a farm's output for the season. The farm she represents is Stoneledge Farm in the Northern Catskills.
  11. Father David Powers closed it out with a biblical pitch for the plant-based diet, reminding us all that the plant-based tradition goes back a long time.

 Literature Table

 There was ample information available on the literature table
  • Showing of Forks Over Knives at NYPL Parkchester on June 2nd at 1 PM at the Parkchester Library. All are welcome. We had a sign-up sheet, but no RSVP is needed.
  • Information on our monthly Suppers/#WFPB cooking classes at St. Helena's, with the next one being on June 16th. The program starts at 3 PM and 3 - 4 is for food prep, 4 - 5 is dinner time, and 5 - 5:29 is clean-up.
  • There was information about The American College of Lifestyle Medicine. Through their website you can find lifestyle physicians where you live, and you can also be a lay member and have access to a wealth of useful information about plant-based living and health.
  • There also was information about the 4LeafProgram, which is an excellent way to track just how well you are doing with your plant-based diet, and to keep you on track. It is used in many health plans as a self-assessment.
  • Finally, there was information about the Suppers program, based on the book Logical Miracles. It is a do-it-yourself program to create dietary support groups at home, by hosting meal preparations at home and sharing the grocery bills with a few friends, to provide mutual support in achieving a diet and lifestyle change.
  • There was also a flyer for Miguel's flower shop which explained which plants are good at cleaning up your indoor air, all based on NASA research.


Thursday, May 24, 2018

Green Bronx Machine

I went to visit the Green Bronx Machine with Father David Powers from St. Helena on 5/23. It is the project of Stephen Ritz at P.S. 55 at St. Paul's Place in the South Bronx.

Here is a TEDx Presentation on the Green Bronx Machine.

We attended a whole afternoon of presentations, mostly by the kids, with some assistance, on growing the veggies and the herbs, on their experiments with different kinds of lighting (LEDs won over fluorescents) and the whole array of related teaching that goes into this wonderful program at the intersection of health and nutrition, as well as science, literacy and math, not to mention presentation skills and so on. The poise of these third graders was amazing, for there were almost a dozen adult onlookers present, but they did their thing and were quite unflappable.

Healthy food program with Memorial Sloan Kettering

The Program
I had one interesting conversation with a few people from Memorial Sloan Kettering (MSK), which has a program going on where the GBM contributes fresh veggies to recovering cancer patients, and I was told that the hospital can already see the difference in terms of better outcomes. This is quite encouraging, since MSK has otherwise been a laggard in terms of the plant-based revolution. I recently got to see this up-close with a relative who was treated there and I was apalled at the fact that they still do not cover the Whole Foods, Plant-Based (#WFPB) nutritional paradigm and instead they stick to the traditional ideas of nutrition that reflect the infamous "My Plate" recommendations from USDA/HHS, which are hopelessly obsolete.

Fortunately, there are already programs for cancer patients that do focus on whole foods plant-based nutrition as this report from California shows. And then there is always Chris Wark and his website, Both Kaiser Permanente, the largest health system in the country, and now also BlueShield of California support the whole foods, plant-based diet and are bringing it more and more into their clinical practice. Perhaps it's just slower to come to the East Coast.

Planting Seeds

Seeds to Plants to Food

Here are some of the photo's from our visit:
Planting seeds was one of the lessons that was going on.
So, while on one side of the room a meal was being prepared with some of the harvest, on the other side of the room the next harvest was being prepared.

And at one end of the room a group did a presentation on their research into the various kinds of lighting. The project was quite in depth and tracked the performance over quite some time, and the overall conclusion was that they had much better growth with LEDs than with fluorescents.
Lighting Project
Teach Stephen Ritz

Meanwhile, teach Stephen Ritz was everywhere, both helping the kids, and educating the adults in terms of what they were looking at.
The growing columns
The food was an excellent little salad, as well as steamed veggie dumplings. The adults were running around in between all the work going on.
At the end we got to see a new film of the operation that was made by a high school senior for their graduation project. More local talent at work. In all, a very inspiring afternoon, and quite an education about education on a whole new level.
Dumpling Assembly
More Dumpling Assembly

Thursday, May 10, 2018

Perfect Spinach Everytime

From the plant-based kitchen dept.

One part of making life easier with the plant-based lifestyle is to avail yourself of appropriate kitchen technology. For me, induction heat is one of the must-haves.
First came my Induction Heat Rice Cooker, and then came an induction heat cook top from CopperChef, which works fine, different from their pans, which do not hold up very well in daily use.

So, as I reported in that last post about CopperChef, I have since moved on to both a Demeyere Silvinox stainless steel Dutch oven, and a frying pan as well as a 4-Qt Sauce pan from ScanPan, which do everything I need. The CopperChef pans are relegated to steaming, as they are not very useful for cooking without oil, even though they claim to be. Their non-stick becomes increasingly sticky after the first half dozen uses.

ScanPan 4Qt Sauce Pan in Action

Perfect Spinach (for one)


  • One medium onion chopped fine
  • One jalapeno pepper, seeded
  • Two green chilis
  • 3-4 cloves of garlic
  • One bunch of spinach, washed


  • Chop up the onion fine, along with the chilis and the jalapeno
  • Dry-fry it on medium heat (275F) for 5 minutes
  • Chop up the garlic cloves
  • Add 2 ice cubes of veggie broth, and the chopped garlic and heat for another 5 minutes at 275F
  • Add the washed spinach. Cook for 7 minutes at 275F.
  • Drain the remaining cooking liquid, and freeze it in your ice-cube tray.
Besides anything else, here is where the advantages of IH cooking show. If I just set my onions for 5 minutes, it no longer matters if I get a phonecall, the plate just turns itself off after 5 minutes. When you put it all together, the above gives you perfectly cooked spinach in 20 minutes (assuming 3 mins for chopping the onion and the chilis and jalapeno).
Also, you are now cooking your spinach with spices, not with salt, which is an essential piece of the Whole Foods, Plant-Based diet. NO ADDED, Sugar, Oil, or Salt.

The ScanPan cookware holds up very well, in exactly 5 minutes the onions just begin to turn brown, and, in the ScanPan, there is no sign of sticking. For ScanPan, non-stick means what it says.

Making a meal as opposed to a recipe

With the above, I can cook a meal in no time. Usually, I cook various sauces for 6-8 servings and freeze the left overs. You can easily boil pasta, or a potato, or rice (which I usually also cook in batches for 2-3 days). So, while I am making the spinach, I can re-heat the sauce in a double boiler (I do not have a microwave). This type of a meal can be ready in a half hour.

It all becomes a system, and by using your freezer effectively, you can make your kitchen very effective, by leveraging frozen foods you prepared in batches, and fresh foods you make that day. And making a salad is always easy - and I usually throw in a half a cup or a cup of quinoa and/or some beans, such as black beans or one-eyed peas, or whatever is around.

Wednesday, May 2, 2018

CopperChef Reviewed

In a recent post, I shared some experiences and opinions about cookware for your plant-based kitchen. One comment pertained to CopperChef cookware, which has been heavily promoted in recent years, but I came to the conclusion that you're better off saving your money for something better.

CopperChef's Sticky "Non-Stick" Coating

In the interest of fairness, by buying a set of CopperChef pans, I did end up with an induction cooktop, which was major progress. Besides the cooktop, their set included both the 9.5" and 11" "Deep Square Pan," with lids and steamer baskets and some pretty useless utensils.

Since pictures are worth a thousand words, I will offer you some pictures:

CopperChefXL 9.5" Deep Square Pan, Looking good
The ceramic coating comes off on the bottom, just from the cook top
Non-stick coating showing wear and tear in the middle
So for me this stuff was a learning tool to get going with induction cooking. I love the induction cooking experience, but these pans are not worth whatever I paid for them. Here is what it says on their website:

Copper Chef is the world’s first non-stick all-round square pan with Cerami-Tech coating, a new generation of healthy ceramic non-stick technology. That means nothing will stick to your pan. Copper Chef, with extra deep sides replaces a roasting pan, a rice cooker, a steamer, a stock pot, a wok and a baking dish. Even cook mac and cheese from dry right in its own sauce. Delicious! No more boiling and straining ever again!
What’s the secret? Copper Chef’s induction plate channels heat quickly and evenly with no hot spots, so you can sear meat in a flash!
And because you’re cooking with ceramic non-stick, you don’t have to add all that extra fat and butter. Air pop popcorn without any oil or butter. And no added calories.
 The truth is different, in my experience, so,  even though the website for the product claims expressly that you can cook in it without oil or grease, it did not work out that way in practice. For me cooking vegetables like spinach, poi leaf (Malabar spinach), or callaloo, begins with searing some onions and chilis at medium heat, dry for a few minutes until  the onions begin to caramelize. Then I add some 2 ice cubes of frozen vegetable broth and add some chopped garlic, and cook that for another five minutes, before I add the vegetable. Sometimes I may first add some beans and/or some split lentils or chick peas (and more water) to make a sauce. It all depends.

In the CopperChef pan, in the center area, where the induction heat transfer occurs, the onions started baking on to the "non stick surface" right away, even the first time, and it got progressively worse. The picture above is after about 6 months of regular use. Cleaning up is becoming progressively worse. Effectively, I cannot brown the onions in this pan, I have to stop just before they caramelize, which happens to be 4 minutes on 275F and even then they start to stick. It has become a major annoyance.

Meanwhile I have to say, the 11" Deep Square Pan is very useful to me for steaming my daily bunch of kale, because the steaming tray is huge. Of course for steaming the problem with anything sticking on the non-stick coating is a non-issue. The wear and tear on the corners of the square bottom are the same - it really does seem the cooktop is that abrasive. In short, the CopperChef pans are great for boiling water, but would not count on them for challenging tasks like seriously cooking without oil... never mind what they claim.

Besides these usability problems, we had endless problems with this company just to get the shipment right. The first order had pieces missing and it took something like 10 follow-up orders to correct the first one, during which time they kept sending us the wrong replacements. It took about six months before our first shipment was complete, and by that time the 9.5" Deep Square Pan was essentially worn out.

Enter Scanpan

Scanpan 4Qt Sauce Pan
On the recommendation of some of my plant-based friends, I then tried a Scanpan sauce pan, and it is brilliant. It has now taken the place of the 9.5" Deep Square Pan from CopperChef. Now, in fairness, the Scanpan sauce pan cost as much as the cooktop plus the two pans from CopperChef, and the cooktop definitely does work just fine. Using the timer for cooking is so much easier! Plus the 11" pan is proving very useful to me.

Scanpan has proven itself to me as being the non-stick ceramic cookware that truly performs. It says non-stick and it is non-stick. It feels very solid and the thick, multi-layer bottom does a masterful job at very even heat distribution, making this pan truly a joy to cook in.

OK, that's the latest on my adventures in plant-based cooking. Remember, the tools do make a difference in your daily routine, so while you may not necessarily need anything special to go plant-based, still, having great tools does pay dividends and make cooking more rewarding.